Beyond observation: a history of authorship in ethnographic film

Research output: Book/ReportBookpeer-review


This book consists of a detailed historical analysis of the authoring of ethnographic films between 1895 and 2015. It is structured around the argument that the ethnographicness of a film should not be gauged in relation to whether or not it is about an exotic culture - the popular view - nor in relation to the degree that is has been authored - a long-standing academic view - but rather in relation to the degree to which it adheres to the norms of ethnographic practice more generally. On these grounds, Beyond Observation covers a large number of films made in a broad range of styles, on an equally broad range of topics and in many different parts of the world. For the period before the Second World War, it discusses films made within reportage, exotic melodrama and travelogue genres as well as more conventionally ethnographic films made for academic or state-funded educational purposes. In the postwar period, it examines the work of film-makers such as John Marshall, Asen Balikci, Ian Dunlop and Timothy Asch and considers the ideas about authorship developed by Jean Rouch, Robert Gardner and Colin Young. But it also discusses films authored by indigenous subjects using the new video technology of the 1970s, and the ethnographic films that flourished on British television until the 1990s. In the final part, it examines the recent work of David and Judith MacDougall, the Harvard Sensory Media Lab, and then a range of films authored in a participatory manner, as possible models for the future.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationManchester
PublisherManchester University Press
Number of pages564
ISBN (Print)978-1526131348
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jan 2020

Publication series

NameAnthropology, Creative Practice and Ethnography
PublisherManchester University Press


  • ethnographic film, authorship, observational cinema, indigenous media, television, sensory media


Dive into the research topics of 'Beyond observation: a history of authorship in ethnographic film'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this